Author Susan Tweit Provides Insights and Writing Prompt

by Matilda Butler on April 7, 2009

Post #2 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompts – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

We are pleased to announce that author Susan Tweit will join us for a Free Teleseminar on Thursday, April 9 at 5PM (Pacific) / 8PM (East coast). Susan’s memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey has just been released. What questions do you have for a memoir author? What would you like to ask Susan about writing her memoir? Wonder how writing the memoir has influenced her reflections on her life?

Ask Susan your questions in the COMMENT section at the end of this blog. We’ll get them to her and you’ll hear her answers on Thursday during our Author Conversation. Be sure to call to listen live. The phone number is: 1-712-432-0600 and the Access Code is: 998458#. We won’t be taking questions on the line, so post your questions below.

Today we are especially pleased to welcome Susan as our guest blogger. Read her thoughts and, at the end, her special writing prompt for you. Now, here’s Susan:

Picking Up the Pieces by Susan Tweit

“You’ve got two years, or perhaps five,” said the doctor, leaning over her metal desk. “I’m sorry.”

She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, then replaced the lenses carefully before explaining that she had sent my test results to specialists. They concurred with her diagnosis: the way the disease was progressing, they thought, my life would not last long.

It was February of 1980. I was twenty-three years old, attending graduate school while working for the U.S Forest Service, married to my college sweetheart, and at the beginning of what seemed like a promising career.

I shifted on the slippery vinyl seat of the chair, picked up a mechanical pencil, and recorded her words in tidy script in a ruled notebook. I wanted to remember the facts, so I took notes. I am a scientist. I observe and record from a careful distance. It’s what we do, how we make sense of the world.

That’s the opening of my memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, just published by University of Texas Press.
Those brief paragraphs describe a pivotal event that came out of the blue and shattered the life I had carefully constructed. Before those words, I was living what I thought was the life I wanted, after them, that life fell apart. What do you do when something–expected or not–completely alters your path, your role, your hopes and dreams? Those questions drive the story in Walking Nature Home.

Here’s what I did with the terrifying news the doctor delivered: pretended it wasn’t happening, did a lot of research on the illness I’d been diagnosed with, went crazy for a while, divorced my husband, moved away from the home of my heart, left the career I loved, ran off to the wilderness…. When none of that vanquished the illness for which no cure is known, I settled in, picked through the shards of my old life to see what was worth carrying on, and began learning how to build a life with what I had. I’m still doing that, still learning how to love the family and life I’ve been given, how to listen to my inner voice, how to be at home, to stick to what really matters, and find joy in the everyday miracle of simply being. That’s what Walking Nature Home is about.

Without that terrible diagnosis, my life would have been very, very different. Those few minutes in the doctor’s office quite literally made me the person I am.

We’ve all experienced events that came seemingly out of nowhere and completely changed our lives–perhaps in a positive way, perhaps not. When we get over the shock, most often we pick up whatever is salvageable and continue on. But when we continue on, neither “we” nor “on” is the same as it was before the event.

Susan’s Writing Prompt
Think of one event that reshaped your life. Can you describe it briefly and compellingly? What would you include? What would you leave out? Before you start writing, re-read the beginning of my post. Notice the details: The doctor leans over her metal desk. She takes off her glasses and rubs her eyes. What does that tell you about her? Notice how I place the scene in context with the year, my age, a brief description of what I think is important about my life (note what I don’t say!). Then I pick up my mechanical pencil and take notes. What does that say about me?

Now write about the event that re-shaped your life. Where did your journey go from there? Let’s hear your story!

Thanks to Matilda and Kendra for hosting me on Women’s Memoirs. This is the seventh stop on my blog book tour to promote Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey. Just before this stop, Susan Tomlinson, college professor, essayist, artist, gardener, and maker of custom canoe paddles hosted me on her Bicycle Garden blog. Next up is artist, writer, and considerer of life Susan Gallacher-Turner. Join me to continue the discussion!

The full tour schedule is on my blog and also on my web site. Don’t miss the great review of Walking Nature Home on the Story Circle Network Book Review site

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Luckhurst April 7, 2009 at

Wow, Susan. Sounds like you have lived quite a life so far. Obviously, the prognosis was incorrect if they said you had 2-5 years in 1980; I’m happy for you about that.

You said your experiences made you who you are, but is there anything you would do differently if you knew then what you know now?

Rosemary April 7, 2009 at

Hi Susan:

I can hardly wait to read your memoir. I am writing my memoir and am really having a hard time coming up with a title for it. How did you decide on “Walking Nature Home?”

I’ll be listening on Thursday to hear your answer to this and other questions.

Georgia Darling April 7, 2009 at

The more I work on my memoir, the deeper I delve into my thoughts and experiences. I am being changed by this process. I’m not sure if that is good or bad. Do you feel that writing your memoir somehow changed you? And, if so, in what ways were you changed?

Halle S. April 7, 2009 at

Hi Susan, I’m looking forward to reading your book and hearing the interview with Matilda and Kendra. Here’s my question: How hard was it to come up with a way to tell your story that is instructive for the reader and not a pity party? Did this require you coming up with a metaphor? Did you have false starts or really have to grapple with the subject to find the right voice? I’ll look forward to your answer. Best of luck with the book. H

Barbara Rose Mayfield April 7, 2009 at

I understand that you are doing a Blog Book Tour. I’m interested in how effective this technique is. I’m getting ready to write my own memoir. I’ve been following what Kendra and Matilda have written about starting the marketing at almost the same time as the book. I’d like to know about your experiences. Did U start early or wait until your book was finished? And what else are you doing besides the blog tour? Cheers.

JK April 8, 2009 at

I’m just finishing up my first book (it’s a memoir) and I’m in the process of putting together my book proposal. I don’t have an agent and am not even sure I want one. My brother-in-law is an attorney and can check out any publishing contract I get. Could you talk a little about your experiences on the business side. Why did you go with a university press? Did you try to get a big NY publisher? Did you consider any independents? Thank you. Oh, one more thing, did you write a book proposal or just send a ms out?

Samantha C. April 8, 2009 at

Hi Susan. I’m curious as to how hard it is to write about yourself. Obviously this is a very personal story. Why did you feel you needed to put yourself “out there” for all to see and read? I’ve kept a journal for almost 20 years. And I’ve toyed with writing some stories about me and my family. But I’m reluctant to put my family out for the world to see. Plus I have this nagging concern that no one except my family will really care. How do you make your personal story of interest to perfect strangers? I look forward to the call on Thursday. Sam

kathy April 8, 2009 at

Hey Susan, have you ever used Lulu website at all? I was thinking of using that site for my frist book I have written. I have about 10 on the go that are just about done. i do a bit and bit at time. but i have other books i have outlined too. So did you do any self-publishing? Just wondering if you have any self-publishing info you can share if you have done that?
Do you find it hard when writting a book and starting another one and try keep going on them? I sometimes get bored with the ideal and get a differnet one and sometimes have to start another book. thats why i have so many on the go. I also been writing poems and sometime find it easyer to write them. do you write any? you like storys or poems mostly?


Cinda Crawford April 9, 2009 at

Hello Susan, I’m interested in your talk, your book and your opinion about something. I have a memoir that is much more than a plain vanilla memoir. My history started with a tough physical start to life, ending up with me becoming very sick & finally recovering and beginning a health-related business. The book is a combination of all 3! It’s not only about my physical journey, but my spiritual growth as a person. Question is: have you ever heard of a combination memoir with such a multi purpose? I want to impact my market with my personal story & share with them that healing is possible. What do you think? Can I include this in one book or make it 2? Thanks. I would appreciate your reply on the show or via e-mail. Cinda Crawford

Alexis Grant June 7, 2009 at

Did you post a transcript of this call anywhere? I’d love to hear the answers to these questions.

matilda June 7, 2009 at

Hi Alexis:

Thanks for your question. Here is the link to listen to Susan’s interview:

It was a great interview and we hope you enjoy it.
–Matilda and Kendra

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